Archetypes Can’t Tell Time

One way to understand the idea of “making a judgement” is to think about it as a choice that can be made in the gap between a stimulus and a response. It is, of course, the polar opposite of automatic, and its effectiveness is dependent upon the length of time available in that gap.  That length of time, that space between point A and response B in certain situations is almost non-existent. My right knee crossed over the left snaps up at the Doctor’s tap. There is neither time nor need for  judgement.

Unfortunately there is currently and has always been a cult of cognitive surrender that functions as if virtue resides not in making good judgements but rather in speeding up the automatic. The mediaeval  doctors called it daemon possession, our psychologists of today call it road rage. I think the earlier doctors may have been closer to a functional understanding, although I’m not as certain about the effectiveness of their therapeutic interventions.

It may be more useful to think of the phenomena as yielding to the energy of the archetype; that is jettisoning  all of the other roles that make up our lives and incorporating at the crucial moment only those that function as elements of the archetype. Within that context my experience at a primal level of being cut off in traffic is an insult and a dangerous assault to the warrior within. If I do not retaliate, I face a certain loss of position among my peers. I cannot live among them as an unreliable coward, and I cannot face the stark cold reality of being ostracized, sent alone into an indifferent and ever threatening world.

Like the tap on the knee, my body, not my thought process, responds and I am reckless in my revenge.

How did I get there? Too much caffeine? Too much stress? Too little sleep?  The superficial symptoms gather together almost of their own accord, and we embrace them readily because they allow us to choose remedies that match their simplicity. The question underneath these symptoms and their solution partners is what does it mean when I say, “I lost it”, or “I don’t know what came over me.”  As listeners we nod as if we understand; but empathy is not the same as understanding.

Archetypes can’t tell time. They live in us today the same way they have lived in us since we banged each other over the head on the way out of the caves. But while they may have served us in some evolutionary way, they do not often serve us well today when we  mindlessly live our lives on automatic pilot. If I am to surrender to an archetypical  experience it must be a choice made with consideration of the consequences. Excuses offered as if adult tantrums are legitimate forms of expression will not do. Learning to make that space between stimulus and response remain open long enough to allow judgement to intervene is a major mark of adulthood. It is a practice each of us is responsible to engage in, for own well being, and for the well being of each other.

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